Barbara Earl Thomas—whose solo show at SAM, The Geography of Innocence, opens later this year—has been commissioned to create a set of windows for a residential college at Yale University; her design will “confront and contextualize the history of the residential college’s name, which originally honored 19th-century statesman and notorious slavery advocate John C. Calhoun.”
“As images on screens, many look like they’ve been rendered by the algorithm alone—a view of the mind of the machine, intricate and sterile. But in person these are big canvases, emphatically textured with oil paint. The colors look different. The intricate lines wobble humanly. The paintings exist in a hierarchy. And—sadly for our moment when quarantines may come in waves—you need to see them in person to grasp the final step.”
An intriguing poll from Artnet of over 2,000 of their readers finds that this art-loving group doesn’t plan to change their art-going behavior once venues reopen. Also among the findings: they are most excited about getting back to museums specifically, and their top reasons for wanting to return are a desire for inspiration, to learn, and to support the arts.
“‘The picture plane is the site of every action,’ Mr. Marshall said. He seemed to be speaking not only about the painting process but also how he conducts his whole life — after all, this is a man who captured a live crow to get to know it better. ‘How things occupy that space,’ he added, ‘matters more than anything.’”
Beyoncé’s “Black Is King”: Six New York Times critics say, let’s discuss.
– Rachel Eggers, SAM Associate Director of Public Relations
Installation view Figuring History: Robert Colescott, Kerry James Marshall, Mickalene Thomas, Seattle Art Museum, 2018, photo: Stephanie Fink.
Brangien Davis of Crosscut notices that Alexander Calder’s The Eagle, the monumental sculpture that perches in the Olympic Sculpture Park, has its own protective covering these days. She spoke with SAM Chief Conservator Nick Dorman about the conservation and repainting of the steel sculpture, thanks to a grant from Bank of America. Look for “the big reveal” sometime around Labor Day.
“Her subject, Devan, stares openly at the viewer, seemingly aware of our gaze on his body, our intrusion on his space, our sussing out of his mental state…Devan projects an openness, a sort of straightforward vulnerability that makes this painting compelling.”
The American Alliance of Museums is out with another survey on the impacts of COVID-19; Valentina Di Liscia of Hyperallergic outlines the major findings, including that 12,000 institutions may close permanently.
“I have stood in a gallery hung with Asawa’s wire sculptures, where the movement of my own body has caused them to sway, the shadows of the woven wire dancing against the floor. For a moment, I was quietly transported elsewhere — to the deep sea, to a forest or maybe to someplace altogether unearthly.”
Jasmyne Keimig of the Stranger reports on the quiet reopening of Seattle galleries. A group of galleries had asked to be included in Phase 2 and were granted permission; with precautions in place, “going to the gallery doesn’t look that much different from before.”
“Although the festival won’t be the same this year, Moriguchi noted that part of Buddhism is about change and adapting, so they still plan to make the most of it. He said he will try to do a Google Hangout or Zoom with friends while they watch. Mostly, he hopes people will still dance along at home.”
“He took the billy club they beat him with at Selma and turned it into a baton, a relay man running toward that promise in our founding documents that says all men are created equal when the word “all” really meant some and not others.”
Suggested viewing: Good Trouble, the documentary directed by Dawn Porter.
– Rachel Eggers, SAM Associate Director of Public Relations
Flowing tears, drowning hands, purposeful denial, and a mandala sun: get lost and found in Kimisha Turner’s mural It Ain’t Just A River in Egypt. Commissioned by SAM and paid for by an anonymous donor, the mural is now on view on the plywood-covered facade of the downtown museum. Watch and read all about it from KING’s Evening Magazine and Crosscut.
“Like the best short stories, short films can pack a punch—sometimes more than a feature length movie. Plus these showcases allow you to experience a huge range of voices and styles, and find new filmmakers you want to follow.”
“Oftentimes, Black women find ourselves at the vanguard whether or not that is our preferred position. Our ways of being, knowing, and seeing have shaped what we know of history and will be absolutely integral as we work to conceptualize and bring forth a more egalitarian future free from bondage and subjugation.”
Next in our series of virtual tours from Suzanne Ragen, aka Nana, we’ll be looking at an ancient Hindu sculpture and a Chinese sculpture from the 14th century. A SAM docent since 1965, Ragen began writing what she calls Nana’s Art History 101 for her grandchildren when the Asian Art Museum had to close for the safety of the public in March 2020. She recently started to share these virtual tours of SAM’s original home with us and we hope you enjoy them!
Ganesh, Remover of Obstacles and Lord of Auspicious Beginnings
Do you remember our first object, the Indian Story Scroll Cloth that featured the Hindu god Ganesh? He starts the story on that scroll because he is the God of Auspicious Beginnings, which means the story gets off to a good start.
This stone sculpture of Ganesh was located in a niche of a Hindu temple wall. In Hinduism, there are three main gods: Brahma has four heads and is the creator of pretty much everything; Vishnu often wears a top hat and is blue and comes to earth to help when needed in the form of nine different avatars; and Shiva who is the destroyer and can end the world and then you start all over again.
This Ganesh is connected to Shiva, we know that because the snake across his round belly is Shiva’s snake. When you look at Ganesh, what’s the first thing you notice? For me, his most striking feature is his elephant head. He also has four arms, a big belly, wears jewelry, and a crown. You might notice his candy dish in his left hand (he loves candy). What do you see near his right foot? That’s Mooshika, his rat sidekick who helps Ganesh trample down or wiggle through obstacles.
Why do you think he has an elephant head? The reason starts with Shiva and his wife Parvati, who live in a big, fancy house. Shiva is gone a lot, destroying things and Parvati misses him. One day when Shiva is gone Parvati makes a child out of clay to keep her company and breathes life into him. Once she goes to take a bath and tells her child, “Don’t let anyone in the house!” But Shiva comes home unexpectedly. Ganesh stops him and says “You can’t come in!” This makes Shiva so angry that he takes his sword and cuts off Ganesh’s head.
Parvati comes out and says, “How terrible! You have cut off the head of our child!” Shiva realizes the situation and tells his servant to go to the market and bring back the first head he sees. It is an elephant. Shiva places the elephant head on his child’s body. Ganesh comes back to life and in Hindu mythology, stays as a helper to his father and a good son to his mother.
Many Hindus pray to Ganesh for good luck when they set a new goal. After hearing this story, what do you think is lucky about Ganesh?
Dragon Tamer Luohan
This Chinese wood sculpture from the 14th century came to the Seattle Art Museum soon after it opened its doors in 1933. How do I know this information? I looked at the label! If you look at the last numbers on any label (no matter what museum you go to), you’ll see there are a series of numbers. The numbers before the first period tell you what year the museum acquired the work, after the period is the number in which the object came into the collection that year. This is called the accession number. The accession number for this object is 36.13. This means that the object was acquired in 1936 and it was the 13th object acquired that year.
For the past 84 years this object was titled Monk at the Moment of Enlightenment. While the museum was closed for a recent renovation and expansion, our Chinese curator was able to examine it very carefully, using medical equipment like x-rays and CT scans, as well as looking closely. We can do that, too.
What we discovered from the scans is that the figure is hollow, made up of five different pieces of wood, held together with long iron pins, and was painted in reds and greens with a topcoat of gold, most of which has worn off. The curator was able to remove a panel in his back and found a single Chinese character inscribed inside that the museum had never seen before! It is part of the name for the Dragon Tamer Luohan. Luohans are Buddhist monks and this one’s particular job was to control the Dragon King. The Chinese believed that rainfall was controlled from the clouds by the Dragon King, so farmers would pray to this Luohan for the right amount of rain for their crops. Because of his size (more than three feet) and quality, it is thought that he was originally in a temple in Beijing.
The other big surprise that was found inside him was a mud wasp nest in his head! It must have been there for 800 years. A fragment of a wasp was sent to a UW entomologist, who was able to determine its species.
He is sitting on a tree stump, his body is twisted, legs with one foot touching the ground and the other crossed over that knee. He is grasping his robe in one hand and probably held a pail or a pearl in his other hand. He is looking upward at the sky, communicating with the Dragon King for more or less rain to fall. He seems totally animated with his swirling robes and vigorous body language. Notice his elongated pierced ear lobes, a symbol of the Buddha, who began life so wealthy that he wore heavy gold earring which stretched his ears.
Many years ago I was leading a high school group on a tour and we were talking about enlightenment and what it is? (This was when he had his first title). I suggested that it might be what happens when you are puzzling over a math problem and the symbols and numbers are just making no sense. You keep looking at them and suddenly they fall into place. Eureka! Enlightenment! When I said that, I snapped my fingers, and at that moment there was a minor Seattle earthquake. The guards came and rushed us into a doorway. I did feel a certain odd sense of power.
– Suzanne Regan, SAM Docent
Image: Dragon Tamer Luohan, ca. 14th century, Chinese, wood with polychrome decoration, 41 x 30 x 22 in., Eugene Fuller Memorial Collection, 36.13. Ganesh, Remover of Obstacles and Lord of Auspicious Beginnings, ca. late 10th to early 11th century, Indian , Odisha, possibly Bhubanesvara, sandstone, 18 1/4 x 9 1/2 x 5 1/2 in., Eugene Fuller Memorial Collection, 39.33.
“The film’s visceral urgency builds through a visual accumulation of histories. His technique calls attention to the ways that history converges with the present, often by unearthing and revisiting images that portray the brutalities many prefer not to see.”
Our friends down on the waterfront, the Seattle Aquarium, have reopened. The Seattle Times’ Chris Talbott talks with visitors and Aquarium leaders, including director of conservation programs and partnerships Erin Meyer, about how it’s going.
“‘Reopening is about reconnecting with our mission inspiring conservation of our marine environment,’ Meyer said. ‘And we can’t do that without being able to interact with guests.’”
“But the greater and more urgent question dangling here is: When is a public artwork an embellishment and when is it an eyesore? Arguments about patriotism and freedom, rights and responsibilities as well as what public art should do, and represent, have been thrown into high relief in 2020.”
We’ve curated a list of grade-level books with free online read-alouds on the topics of race, racism, and resistance for you to spend some time with over the summer. Many of these books will be available at Seattle Art Museum’s Ann P. Wyckoff Education Resource Center (ERC) when the museum can reopen. Others are available through the Seattle Public Library or the King County Library System. This book list caters to grades Pre-K through 8 but can spark conversation between people of all ages.
PRE-SCHOOL – GRADE
Skin Again, by hooks, bell. (Pre-K – K) New York: Jump at the Sun, 2004.
This award-winning book introduces a strong message of loving yourself and others and offers new ways to talk about race and identity. Watch the read aloud above, find the e-book at the Seattle Public Library, or find this book at the ERC.
The Colors of Us, by Katz, Karen. (Pre-K – K) New York: Henry Holt & Co, 1999.
Seven-year-old Lena and her mother observe the variations in the color of their friends’ skin, viewed in terms of foods and things found in nature. Find this book at the ERC!
The Skin You Live In, by Tyler, Michael and Csicsko, David Lee. (Pre-K +) Chicago: Chicago Children’s Museum, 2005.
Rhyming text and illustrations celebrate being happy with the skin in which one lives, whatever that skin might be. ERC available and the e-book is at SPL & King County Library System.
All are Welcome, by Penfield, Alexandra. ( Pre-K – Grade 3) New York: Knopf Books for Young Readers, 2018.
Follow a group of children through a day in their school, where everyone is welcomed with open arms, where students grow and learn from each other’s traditions. You can find the e-book at Seattle and King County Library System.
I Am Enough, by Byers, Grace. (PK – Grade 3) New York: Balzer + Bray, 2018.
A story of loving who you are, respecting others and being kind to one another. The ERC has this book and Seattle Public Library has the e-book.
Let’s Talk About Race, by Lester, Julius and Barbour, Karen. (Pre-K – Grade 3) New York: HarperCollins, 2005.
This children’s book introduces the concept of race as only one component in an individual’s or nation’s “story.” Find this book at the ERC.
Something Happened in Our Town, by Celano, Marianne. (Grades K – 3) Washington, DC: Magination Press, 2018.
This story follows two families—one White, one Black—as they discuss a police shooting of a Black man in their community. The story aims to answer children’s questions about such traumatic events, and to help children identify and counter racial injustice in their own lives. Check out the e-book through SPL.
Enough! 20 Protesters That Changed America, by Easton, Emily. (Grades K – 3) New York: Crown Books for Young Readers, 2018.
America has been molded and shaped by those who have taken a stand and said they have had enough. In this dynamic picture book, stand alongside the nation’s most iconic civil and human rights leaders, whose brave actions rewrote history. The e-book can be found at the Seattle Public Library & King County Library System.
GRADES 3 – 8
Not My Idea: A book about Whiteness, by Higginbotham, Anastasia. (Grades 3 +) New York: Dottir Press, 2018.
A children’s picture book that invites white children and parents to become curious about racism, accept that it’s real, and cultivate justice. For a limited time, you can download a free pdf version from the publisher’s website.
We Rise, We Resist, We Raise Our Voices, edited by Hudson, Wade and Hudson, Cheryl Willis. (Grades 3 – 7) New York: Crown Books for Young Readers, 2018.
What do we tell our children when the world seems bleak and prejudice and racism run rampant? With 96 lavishly designed pages of original art and prose, 50 diverse creators lend voice to young activists. E-book is at Seattle Public Library and a digital audiobook is available through King County Library System.
Little Dreamers: Bold Women in Black History, by Harrison, Vashti. (Grades 3 – 6) New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2017.
Based on her popular Instagram posts, debut author/illustrator Vashti Harrison shares the stories of 40 bold African American women who shaped history.
Find the e-book available through Seattle Public Library & King County Library System or find the book at the ERC when SAM reopens.
Little Legends: Exceptional Men in Black History, by Harrison, Vashti. (Grades 3 – 6) New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2019.
Vashti’s follow-up to Little Leaders documents the lives and accomplishments of Black men throughout history, spanning centuries and continents. This e-book is available through the Seattle Public Library & King County Library Systems.
Rise Up! The Art of Protest, by Rippon, Jo. (Grades 3 – 7) New York: Charlesbridge, 2020.
Celebrate the right to resist! Human rights belong to every single one of us, but they are often under threat. Developed in collaboration with Amnesty International, Rise Up! encourages young people to engage in peaceful protest and stand up for freedom. Get the e-book on the Seattle Public Library website.
A Good Kind of Trouble, by Ramée, Lisa Moore. (Grades 4 – 8) New York, NY: Balzer + Bray, 2019.
After attending a powerful protest, Shayla starts wearing an armband to school to support the Black Lives Matter movement, but when the school gives her an ultimatum, she is forced to choose between her education and her identity. E-book & digital audiobook available at Seattle Public Library & King County Library System.
Ghost Boys, by Rhodes, Jewell Parker. (Grades 5+) New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2018.
After seventh-grader Jerome is shot by a white police officer, he observes the aftermath of his death and meets the ghosts of other fallen Black boys including historical figure Emmett Till. E-book & digital audiobook available through Seattle Public Library & King County Library Systems.
Raise your Voice: 12 Protests That Shaped America, by Kluger, Jeffrey. (Grades 5 – 8) New York: Philomel, 2020.
Starting with the Boston Tea Party, moving to the Women’s March, and ending with the Standing Rock/Dakota Pipeline Uprising, this book covers 12 protests that shaped our nation. The e-book is available through the Seattle Public Library.
– Kim Christensen, Education Resource Center Education Assistant
Brangien Davis of Crosscut reflects on art that protests and protest art, highlighting an 8-bit video game created by The Black Tones, Barbara Earl Thomas’s intricate paper cuts (to be featured in an upcoming show at SAM), and a “speculative fiction” press release imagining if SAM dissolved (which was erroneously published).
“Some art that erupts during social upheaval is momentary, some persists in minds and hearts, whether a poster, a painting, a flag, a fist or maybe even a video game.”
Jasmyne Keimig of the Stranger continues to cover both the action and the art around the Capitol Hill Organized Protest (CHOP); this week, she notes that “The Bathrooms at Cal Anderson Park Look Sick” after a recent paint job by two volunteers.
“When I’m inside CHOP, I feel like I’m being watched—by the nation, by police, by the government, by history, by those we are fighting for. The whittling away of Floyd’s other features, leaving just his eyes, seems to underscore that idea: Floyd is present, here, watching over us.”
“As I look at these images, I can envision how the photographers shifted their focus to construct new works or culled their own archives to revisit ideas — seeking answers to their own questions about one’s sense of self and responsibility during this unspeakable time.”